WE Founders
WE Founders

Episode · 1 year ago

WE Founders e5: Sonja Ory


In this episode of WE Founders podcast Gaia has hosted Sonja Ory, a telecommunications professional with 15+ years of international experience eager to transfer her excessive knowledge of supporting corporations to provide help to the startup community. Is there a space for startups and corporations to collaborate in this industry? How should startups pitch their ideas to corporations? Can startups bring a fresh way of thinking and accelerate the challenges companies are facing such as agility of product development? Find out by tuning in our latest episode! 

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Host: Gaia Montelatici 

Guest: Sonja Ory 

Produced by: Impact Hub Belgrade 

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Welcome to the we founders podcast. We are women entrepreneurs, founders and investors, sharing our stories about how we raise funds, invest and build our businesses from the Western Balkans. I'm your host, Guy Montelatchi, general partner at studio ex ventures. Welcome to the we founders podcast. I'm Gaya, your host. In conversation today with our Sonya Audi, she did a very courageous career shift, which we're going to ask her all about today. So, Sonia, welcome. Hi Guys, thank you for inviting me to do this podcast with you, and I'm just say that I'm very excited, since this is my first opportunity to have such experience, and, once again, thank you for hosting this. So you're very welcome. Well, listen, you've been an expert and you have a professional career in telecommunications. You worked in companies and comporations in the Western Balkans, you managed teams and you're changing your gear. What's happening? Tell us a little bit more about yourself and what you're expecting from your next challenges. Okay, Oh, well, yes, for last fifteen years, or maybe even a bit longer, I have been in various international telco companies I have started. So my educational background is the time and Master of Telecommunications and I had that opportunity to be part of two. That my first job and role was really exciting for me, since I managed to go directly into mobile networks, which was my deep wish. But so it started from tellinghood. Actually, back then it was still mock too. And then, okay, for two years I was like all leaguer to be in engineer shoes and I was doing all sorts of technical things and fixing issues and problems and being super happy about it. And then I had also another opportunity on the market because actually telecomoster group was acquiring a license for third operator, and that was like really, really nice opportunity for me to transfer and to be able to be part of something which was completely green field project. So actually, more or less that, I could say that that was one of my own personal startup experience, even though it was part of Big International Corporation, but still we started to build that network from scratch and I will I had the privilege to be the one who made the first voice call, best voice call in that network, which was like very, very nice...

...experience, and I cherish it. So I stayed really rather a long in that company, but I shift it through different roles. So I also had an opportunity to become a team manager. So besides having the technical role in network operations, I was also leading a team, and I must say that I'm also proud of that. That the fact that the team was of fourteen engineers and some seven of them were girls and seven of them were died. So even we had some kind of gender equal quality, which was rare, especially for technical areas, in these type of diddy continuous to the quality to how courts, and I'm making a joke now, but I think that it is really important to to mention that, because it is like in bit mobile had a very nice culture and it was not the only team where we had that kind of diversity, let's call it like that, and it was like really they they were really open to two girls being in technical roles, and I actually I was not even maybe aware of that fact until I changed to to some other countries and cultures and realize that it is still I was very surprised personally, but it is still very rare that you have so many girls engineers or having a technical roles, you know, working during the night and fixing things in order for customers not to feel any problems in the network, etc. So for me it was normal from the beginning because somehow it was the case in both of my first companies. So also in Telena I had similar, similar environment, yes, and experience, and then also in invad mobile in Serbia. But when I had opportunity to talk to other opcos, because telecomustria group has also operators in bulcan areas, but specifically in Balcan area, so in Croatia and Slovenia, I was surprised to see that these people were surprised that I'm girl and that I'm also I'm not only an engineer, but I also like leading a team and things like that. So it was I realized it like that, because for me it was like something which was normal, but then I realized it was still not normal, maybe even in some countries where I wouldn't re expected more that it is normal. Yeah, I had the similar, similar experience in when I was working Indiana, in Austria as well. So in technical area, one hundred percent guys, maybe some girl, but like on like internship, student or something like that. So it's still not there and it's for me. It was super surprising. Yeah, but okay, so just maybe to shift back to to my other roles. So, followed by that team manager role in the Mobile Serbia,... a one Serbia, I got opportunity to be a team leader of another team which was now actually situated in two different countries, because telecomostrial group was acquired by America mobile is they decided to do a bit of mixing, so they made clusters inside of a group and they merged a one Slovenia with now a one Serbia. So I inquired a team which was actually made at that moment, which was responsible of quality assurance of all network services, and it was not an easy team to to manage, especially because I was constantly on wheels and I had to drive from Belgrade to U Downa and back and forth like at least two times per month. And it was still a very, very good experience and I enjoyed it a lot. But what was also very interesting is that I was managing a team. I didn't choose members of these teams, so I inherited it them, but they were all guys, again, all engineers, but still again for me. It was super weird, but it was. It was a good experience, and also the fact that now I had like insight in how it is to deal with two different cultures, because even though it's still the part of even once the same country, but it's still a different culture and mentality and everything. So yeah, it was it was also nice. And then there was another opportunity. After two years managing the team, this class today want Serbia and Slovenia. They decided they need some kind of refreshment and they decided to actually form a new, brand new team which was supposed to handle digital transformation and innovation and to build up, to build in and to develop some new products and new ideas. And so it was not really it was some sort of a prep project and it consisted of just a couple of people who were there from the beginning, and they asked me if I want to to change to that team, to transfer to towards that area, let's say, because till then I was always strictly in inside of technical area and this was more like product development, and I decided to to do that shift, and so that that was maybe my first small shift, and then it will be followed by a bigger shift. Anyhow, it was super interesting because that team was actually in charge to do collaboration. We start up community in boat countries, so everything what was supposed to be developed should have been developed for Slovenia and Serbia. That was not easy because these are two different markets, so also different expectations, different culture...

...and everything, standards and economies and etc. So yeah, it was again very good experience for me to first so fall to start learning new stuff about how does it go dealing with any kind of product development, and also another thing which was super refreshing for me as well, and was to deal more with the startup community immunity and with startup companies, because after it was too sixteen. So back then I was already more than ten years inside of corporations exclusively, and what was very like a downside of the whole thing was that there are so many procedures and so many so much administration, so many meetings, and I think that by time I started to feel it more and more that I spend so much time, not only me but also my other colleagues, not even thinking about it, that we are spending so much time trying to fulfill some form which needs to be fulfilled and not really doing the business we need to to to actually these experience really prepared you for the jump that you're doing now, all exact, getting into really interprene worship. And so what is your motivation? What is it that you're going to accomplish? Okay, so my motivation is that. So for years, for last couple of years, when I was also working on a position in Vienna again, doing some kind of product development, I was more and more becoming unhappy and I was losing my passion before, you know, being productive. I didn't feel that I am having a possibility to be creative enough or to express myself enough. So I was never having some major issues in communications, vice versa. I had like really good colleagues and great text person I was cooperating with the great people, but I like that spark. So what I'm actually doing right now, by this shift, is I'm trying to find that spark again, and I think it's super important and I'm also I know that once when I decided to quit my job position, which was, like, you know, I was living in Vienna, which, when you come from Serbia, it's not a bad thing to do and everybody wants to move out. I luckily, I finished university, which was always accepted everywhere else in the world. So I just stayed in Serbia because I had like enough of interesting things to to do and I was really fulfilled by doing the and performing these different, different roles. And then I moved to Vienda because again, it was more challenging for me and I also wanted to have, in one moment of my career, international expertise. These shift between Slovenia Belgrade was a bit exhausting at the end, so Vienna was sounding very nice, but I couldn't help myself...

...feeling saturated and after fifteen years, I think it's it is, it is okay and even though maybe you will surprise your friends and family and everybody would be like, are you crazy or quitting your job, like, you can stay there, there is nothing wrong. And you know, Vina's very nice city and it is not that far away from home. So everything was seeming perfect, but not for me. I was I was searching for something else and I decided that I need to step out of my comfort zone, like and to to to see what else I can contribute to and unfortunately, I'm not the the one who had like an idea. You know, I could this about with some my own creation or idea to do my own startup or to start something on my own. At least I don't still have it. Maybe that will also pop up. So, but I realized that by having so much experience and different set of skills and really collaborating with different type of corporations and dealing with all sorts of from organization, budgeting to these engineering to us and things like that, and product development, that maybe I can actually use all that knowledge and experience and in order to do help some smaller companies of the like startup community and solutely yea. So let's talk about them a little bit. Okay, so you've already mentioned how you worked with startups from the perspective of your company and you were in product developments. You know the ecosystem in Serbia. You are getting to know it a little bit better now that it's growing. You were part of the western Balk condemno data the INPAHAB organizes, and so you are very much increasing your connections to the founders. What is it that you see in terms of the challenges that the startups are addressing nowadays because, you know, everybody asks us what are the Emerging Trans in Serbia. You know, are their industries that are coming up, as you know, verticals, and so on and so forth, and and we see different things happening. We still don't know whether that is a reflection of, you know, the pandemics, MMM, and so all of the you know, you know pop ups in that sense, or if they're really trends that can be planned out for the next five years, since so on and so forth. From the perspective of someone who worked in, you know, international telecommunications, what do you see? What's your take? Okay, what...

I hope to see is that the start of community doesn't start acting the same like corporation. Let's call them community, even though they are not so making these five year plans. I think that this is exactly what they should not really do, because if they start behaving like that, then they will actually lose their agility and ability to be more adaptive, adaptable and more flexible than corporations are now. And actually I think that's the main challenge of Telco industry is such, and it has been a challenge for years now. So, even though I think that it is a what is the biggest problem? The way I see it, and it is my humble personal opinion of my own experience, is that they are not so corporations. They are not willing to to adopt quickly enough in order to follow the trends. And trends will change and we are facing exactly the moment of of being now that we maybe had some idea how the world will look like two years ago and then we had coughed and then everything changed. But it is, it's really and I don't see that these changes are only temporary. So I think that some of them will will for sure stay. And some trends appeared like nutrends, like when I was part of jury, we all were so thrilled with this relaxify APP because we are aware from personal point of view and also from our friends and family and everything with that. These things, like selfcare APPS and like mental and mental health and mindfulness and all all of these things, they will expand. I mean, we had them before, but it was not some it was not really trendy. Now it will become super sexy, because covid did change our there's some more urgent yes, so that's that's why I'm talking that it is not very easy to predict what will be trends, even though I was working in Delco for fifteen years and I know how they were planning these trends, and at the end they realize that they are not they are not sexy enough, let's call it like that, and they are not quick enough to follow the the the market meats, and that's the main problem of them, and I think that startup community has the advantage, and I really would like it that it stays like that, so that they can shift their trends and also adopt more quickly to all the the things that actually the world disc is is bringing to us, because what we've learned so far with covid and everything, at least in my own personal experience, is that making plans doesn't really count anymore. And it is, I mean I think we all learned that. And also we learned that they are like major shifts in the way the world will function, like the way working will function as such, because when I was working in corporations, they were like, are we going to...

...allow our employees to start working one day from home? Maybe we don't control them. If they do that, maybe they lose their productivity and then puff one thing happened and like in one month the whole world started working from remotely, and then they realize, okay, works and it works, so we that's what I mean by being able to adopt and I think that's the crucial difference between corporation and start up, and start up will, maybe, you know, have that advantage for sure, and I think they are using it. So when I'm talking about some trends, we will see, because it is like really it will. It's what I realized in last, let's say, a year and a half, that everything can change really, really quickly, and I think that, okay, maybe we were facing some other, lot more local things which were influencing what will be future trend and what industries are verticals will be popular, but it was never like this. This is the first thing, at least in my opinion, that it is like really affecting the whole world. So we cannot escape it, we cannot go to another continent and do something else, because there it doesn't exist. It's just not like that. So we will see. I think it will be interesting and it will be very, let's say, the frequency of changes will increase MMM. So from the other end, right, you know, we're always talking about and we've been doing a lot of pilots and projects to bring better together the startups and corporates. Right. You were part of such initiatives in the past as well, and we know that. You know, companies or corporations are vital for the startups because there are their customers, there are their validation in that, you know, startup market. At the same time, it's very hard for the founders to establish the relationship in in a way that it brings to them the results that are validating. Do you see something, you know, evolving from this perspective? Do you think that even cove it can help corporations jump on those trains a little bit earlier? Do you see that there are more open you know, to sort of taking more risks from this perspective? What what's your take on this? Well, I left corporations before covid kicked in, so I don't really know what's now their point of view, but I certainly hope that they are going to use this possibility to shift their way of thinking. And this is a what I realized when I...

...was in the corporations. Shoes and coloberate, collaborating with startups and trying to make it work in a better way, let's say it like that, and I think these things didn't change much. I think that it is really these are two different worlds and they are thinking in different way and it is not really easy to, you know, make them understand each other. And then, which is, by the way, one of the roles where I see myself fitting in, because I think that I could possibly try to make them understand each other and to collaborate, because so you mentioned that from startup point of view and start up community point of view and from founders point of view, this is essential discollaboration, but it is also very essential from corporations point of view, especially from TALCO industry. I can speak for Talco because I was part of it. They are like ideas and they are lacking ideas for so long that they are becoming just infrastructure. So they are having so much investments into building the network and expending the capacities and, you know, having more throughput and better quality and everything, but they are not really building their something new in point of services and they need fresh ideas and they need and from that perspective, I think I was just part of one Delco who did this collaboration, but I'm pretty sure that also other big players on the market are sore doing the same. So and but I don't know why. It's like they are too afraid. Still. That was my impression. Okay, I really started from from the beginning, so from the basic idea and forming the team who will deal with it, and I didn't realize, I didn't see the readiness, from corporations point of view, to to really accept the change that startup could bring and the way of so they were all talking, yeah, we need to be more agile and we need to start doing the like that and to put the product and then to wait what customers will say, not to dream about how it will work in a perfect world, and then wait for years to build it up and procedures and administration and different teams taking their whatever tasks are, and but and then the train is already gone and we are late. And that happened so many times and I think that they just need to spit up and maybe covid will, you know, refresh them also from that perspective, because they for sure change many things they thought they will never change and they became more flexible. I know that, just based on some you know, like working environment, they change. They allow people now to stay home and to work and they've seen that nothing bad will happen. Even maybe productivity can, you know, rise up, because what was really frustrating for me when I was working in this type of environment, and one of the reasons why I really needed to go, is like why,... know you will not have eight hours of tasks to do or to accomplish every day in the week, why there is not flexibility, why it is so important that you need to sit there in your at your desk and that somebody's monitoring you. If you are and you are on the other side, you don't have enough work, and on the other days you will have more than eight hours, but, you know, just to keep that flexibility. And they are starting to realize that it can work also like that, and maybe even in a better way, because people will be more satisfied and they will maybe have more time for their families and be more flexible for some other duties they have, like administration, private things and etc. So I think that this is a good moment for both parties to start collaborating more so for from start of perspective and also from corporation, I agree with you completely. Do you see, though, that there has to be some prack conditions, for example, to be filled, for that collaboration, partnership and more have you to be accelerated and and spit it up a little bit? Because it thinks happen, and we do see that. You know, the startups, you know, take some time to get to the companies that they are targeting and eventually it happens because if they are bringing their results and the validation, well, everybody recognizes that, right, but at the timing is a bit. Is Crucial. Yeah, it's crucial, and that's what's liking, or it was liking, let's say like that. Maybe it will change, but sorry for exacting. So if you have any example story, if you think that you know, there's some validating points that could be more fleshed out to benefit both sides, I don't know if you if you have some. Well, from thoughts on that? Yeah, I guess that. From what would be my message from like corporations? Over, it starts of communities that today need really to to who focus more on how they will present what they want to to present. What they want to pitch, so that that's like, because I know that many of them are just some it guys or developers or programmers and they have really exquisit ideas and very good ideas for a product, but they are not really focused enough, let's say it like that, how they will actually present that and it is crucial and it's crucial for them to do big pile of research to whom they are going to present, because at the end of the day, we are all people and so, and I am coming from technical area and I am also frustrated that marketing is super...

...important, but it is and and you need to know how to sell something and even if it's not completely finished, but even if it is completely completely finished, and then you have a great product, but you don't know how to to show the other person how good it is. So you are not presenting it in a good way or you are not focused enough for you know, it's super important and it can be frustrated, but I think that they should maybe more focused, like startups, more focus how and so networking and how they will present and to be like really to do it, to customize each presentation, each pitch towards the audience. We are there doing the pitch. So we don't you completely. I think that you know, those skills are still in the making here. Yes, we're not there yet. Yes, we have some really accomplishments, but I wrote ahead. It's hard. Yes, that's why I'm pointing that out because I know how hard it can be and I know that especially it is hard for people who are really into development, and so they are not caring how it will look like because they believe one hundred percent in what they are building, and that's super and you can feel that passion. But if they don't know how to present it, at the end of the day it will fail. And also that's a person companies and corporations are looking for because they can buy it. Yes, so exactly, it's not that infrastructure and it's not that technical development. It's totally actually how that can be of service to fulfill the needs that they don't see from the perspective of the users. So I with you that that's totally the missing link. And from this perspective, what do you see? You you've already talked about some of the challenges in that industry that you know the most. That is still ongoing. You've mentioned them, but what do you can you elaborate a little bit more about how the startup world can really up on those challenges to bring some better solutions and does better sell what they're doing? Well? First of all, yeah, like I've already mentioned, I think that startups are really needed in this type of corporations, and I'm I'm pretty sure that it is not only for Telco Industries itself, but I cannot speak for others, even though I would like to make that shift also towards others. But still, startup community can bring, let's say, fresh blood and like fresh way of thinking, and also can really show to the corporations what agility really means in terms of product development as as itself, and I certainly hope that corporations will realize that on time, because, you know, it's... I don't see it like one side need something and the other should provide this is really a true, it should be really true collaboration, because this side, like corporation, they are having money to invest, they are still really strong and influencing players. The industry is still not, you know, going down the hill, but they are. They are completely liking innovation and on the other hand, you have like startup community, which is all about innovation. So I don't see why it should not work. But I just I think there should be someone, or like some people, who should build that bridge between them. And that's where I see maybe my role, and yeah, I did that. That should be maybe all where I can see these challenges could be easily solved or resolved or you know, they they could have some new products on the market really quickly if they just stop being scared. From corporations point of view. Yeah, sometimes it's like, I'm honest, I had or stop being obsessed with so many procedures and processes and forms. They need to be fulfilled before something goes on the market. So, going back to you, you've already again identified a few things you would like to work on with startup community to make them more ready. Yeah, so tell us about what would you do? Read? Well, I think I would give them a bit more insight than I can now share on this short amount of time, because we have one minute left. I think they're like telling us. So I think I would really like to use all of the things I've learned so far in order to help them be better presenters to realize the three to make them realize how to do better customer research, because that also maybe one of the crucial parts, which some of them might be liking, and also to focus more. That's that's also the thing I didn't mention so far and it is super important, and it is also super trendy right now, to be really focused on user experience and user interface, how you actually pack the the products, even though maybe some things are still missing inside, but that that think, like the let's say, the rep up of the product is really good and that you can start from that, because at the end of the day, that that will sell quickly, more quickly. So that that should be and there are many other things, but we don't have enough time. Next time. Yes, okay, thank you. Thank you so much for being our guest. It was a pleasure. It's a continuous conversation and so, yeah, it could be really a longer one, for sure. We'll talk more and we'll see you here mentoring the startup,... to the next time. Thank you for following. Are we founders podcast? Subscribe to our Youtube Channel, listen to our episodes on PODCAST DOT R S and sounder, and check our websites for updates on we founders dotnet.

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